University of Washington arachnid curator Rod Crawford in front of the spider collection he has been keeping for the last 45 years.

If you want to check out the second largest collection of spiders on the West Coast — located at the University of Washington (UW) Burke Museum of Natural History — and meet with the man who has been overseeing these arachnids the last 45 years, curator Rod Crawford, there are a few things you should know.

Although it is a public collection, you won’t see the spiders among the well-traveled exhibit floors of Washington’s oldest museum. Instead, Crawford will guide you down the back stairs, through a cabinet-lined hallway and into a decent-sized-if-it-weren’t-for-all-the-shelving office. As it is, you can slip in between the side-by-side desks (which hold Crawford’s microscope, computer, and various books, papers and research) and the narrow rows of doored cabinets that house the more than 167,000 alcohol-immersed arachnid specimens. The spider collection of today is a far cry from the one Crawford inherited while he was a UW student in 1971, when it numbered only 2,000 spiders.

It all started by chance and coincidence. “I happened to be interested in spiders and I met a guy by sheer chance and coincidence who was working [at Burke] on butterflies,” Crawford recalled. “I saw a bunch of spiders no one was working on.” So he met with the then-curator of entomology “Beetleman” Melville Hatch, who found him a desk and became his mentor. (Hatch is credited with identifying and naming 13 beetle species and authored the five-volume Beetles of the Pacific Northwest).

At the time, Crawford was studying chemistry, but soon, he said, “I got so into spiders that I changed my major to zoology.” The collection had initially been put together by a graduate student who did her dissertation on spiders in 1939 — and it had not been seriously worked on again until 1971 when Crawford took over. Initially, Crawford said, his duties were to look at already identified spiders and try to identify others, both from the existing collection and from miscellaneous spiders collected by other students and himself. “At first I was just groping because there was no one around who knew spiders,” he said.

Today, Crawford continues studying arachnids, answers “some silly questions and some smart questions” from the public, and takes a field trip every few weeks to collect more spiders. So why are so many people stricken with arachnophobia? “They learn to be afraid,” he said. They learn it from other kids (as Crawford noted, “A kid thinks it’s funny to scare others with spiders.”); they learn it from fearful parents, teachers and the media, he added. For more information on Crawford, his arachnid collection and research, and/or to arrange a meeting with Crawford, visit http://staff.washington.edu/tiso. — Lisa Lupo

Insects Among Inhabitants On China’s Space Station

Two Chinese astronauts closed out a month in space in November with a parachute-assisted landing in northern China’s remote Inner Mongolia territory, a day after the crew departed the Tiangong 2 space lab to begin the trip home.

While onboard the space station, the two astronauts completed a series of tests and investigations aimed at a range of scientific and engineering disciplines, including determining if insects, weeds and rice growing on the Chinese space station could pave the way for future food sources for astronauts, www.newscientist.com reported.

As reported by www.newscientist.com, the station hosted an experiment designed by Hong Kong middle school students involving six silkworms, which previous studies suggested could be protein sources for long space journeys. Five of the silkworms spun cocoons, the website reported.